In a two-weekend run ending Sunday, Maine State Ballet is reprising its charming “The Little Mermaid,” an enchanting rendering of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale (with a Disney-worthy happy ending).

“The Little Mermaid” is geared toward children, including brief pieces of narration (by artistic director Linda MacArthur Miele) to clarify dramatic transitions.

And the many little ones in the audience on Saturday afternoon were spellbound, transported out of the world of fidgeting, naps and snacks into a magical undersea kingdom by the music, movement, costumes and sets of this beautifully conceived piece.

This ballet isn’t just for kids, though. Its artistic effect has appeal for all ages, from the beautiful costumes in pink, purple and oceanic shades of blue and green to the striking lighting effects and the quality of the dancing.

Miele, with Glenn Davis, choreographed the ballet to works by Saints-Saens, Ravel and Grieg. Miele’s storytelling skill and musical understanding are demonstrated by how well these pieces come together in the ballet, with almost no noticeable stylistic seams.

The undersea world of the Little Mermaid (Veronica Druchniak), her sisters and a variety of fish is communicated by both nuanced, rippled lighting (especially beautiful when the mermaids are seen through a transparent scrim) and the choreography.


Wisely, Miele and designer Gail Csoboth have refrained from turning the dancers’ legs into tails. Instead, their legs and feet are clothed in green and the choreography minimizes legwork until the Little Mermaid’s transformation.

The mermaids move their arms as if through water, which is indeed one of the images often given to dancers as they learn how to make their arms “float” in general. They also spend quite a bit of time playing with their long, loose hair, enhancing the mermaid characterization.

Druchniak is lovely both before and after her transformation. She uses her arms and hands with fluidity and musicality and her face portrays the story’s poignancy. Especially moving is the scene when she has rescued her shipwrecked Prince (Michael Hamilton) and sings to him through the night.

Miele has chosen well for the Little Mermaid’s voice. In dim, dreamy lighting, Druchniak subtly lip-syncs to “Solveig’s Song” from Grieg’s “Peer Gynt Suite.” Soon, the Little Mermaid will trade her voice for legs so that she can marry the Prince, and the heartbreaking beauty of this song illustrates the sacrifice better than any number of words could.

The mermaid strikes this deal with the Sea Witch, dramatically portrayed by Frederick Bernier in a sweeping cape and an octopus-topped witchy wig.

The witch is accompanied by a troupe of creatures attired in glittering darker shades from the same palette as the mermaids’ pinks, purples and greens, whose bent-legged leaps and turns contrast sharply with the mermaids’ delicate undulations.


Leading the troupe is the Sea Witch’s Minion, portrayed by Emma Davis (in a role previously performed by her mother, principal dancer Janet Davis), who gave the role its due in both menace and grandeur on Saturday, with expansive leaps and quick, expressive transitions.

After her transformation, Druchniak believably experiments with and celebrates her new legs, and then gets the chance to show off her beautiful leg extensions at the palace ball where she reconnects with the Prince. Rhiannon Pelletier is also featured in this scene, as the Other Lady vying for the Prince’s heart; Pelletier is elegant and technically precise in this role, as always.

Unlike the original tale by Andersen, Miele’s “The Little Mermaid” ends in standard fairy tale style, with the girl and boy united in marital bliss. But the ballet brings forward at least part of the deeper tragedy of the original, by emphasizing the beauty of the Little Mermaid’s voice. Even without Andersen’s more grotesque elements, the mermaid’s sacrifice of voice for marriage is a rather chilling allegory.

Of course, the tragedy doesn’t touch the primary audience for the ballet – which on Saturday included at least one little girl in a mermaid-styled dress – and the ballet is crowd-pleasingly exquisite from start to finish.

Jennifer Brewer is a Portland-based freelance writer.

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